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Selfie study measures similarities between smartphone photos and portraiture

What do smartphone users and artists have in common? A new selfie study suggests it's the way we create portraits. Researchers at City, University of London; the University of Parma; and the University of Liverpool found that people who take selfies tend to make their eyes the centerpoint of their photos. This is similar to portrait artists, who also tend to focus on the eyes when composing their paintings.

To reach their conclusion, the researchers went through 4,000 Instagram photos taken from major cities such as New York City, São Paulo, Moscow, Berlin, and Bangkok. They narrowed down their search to 'standard' selfies with one person only, no groups. All selfies were taken either at arm's length or by using the reflection from a mirror.

The researchers then measured where the eyes were centered in the images. They realized that selfie takers not only made their eyes the centerpoint of the images, but they also centered it slightly toward the left eye. This trend was consistent no matter what city the selfies came from.

Centering on the left eye is a significant observation for the researchers because of prior research that suggested artists preferred painting the left cheek more than the right. (This research is for all you artists out there who worry/joke about constantly drawing too many 'so-and-so looking three-fourths to the left' portraits.) With selfie takers doing the same thing, it signaled to the researchers that humans could naturally have this tendency to focus on the center-left when framing a portrait.

"The tendency to centre a feature of particular interest in the frame," said professor Christopher Tyler, professor of optometry and visual sciences at City, University of London, "presumably derives from the fact that we humans have a single focal region of high resolution in the centre of our retinas, the fovea, providing a natural point of attraction for this largely unsuspected tendency in composing the portrait."

The researchers acknowledged that a catch to this study is the possibility that some selfies were flipped before they were posted to Instagram. Still, the meat of the research implies that people prefer to gravitate toward focusing on their eyes for a portrait no matter if it's a painting or a photo. So don't feel silly the next time you find yourself fiddling around to get your selfie angle juuust right — you're just letting your artistic side show.